April 19, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Sheer Impossibility of Nothingness

By Joseph Patrick Pascale
Published: 2015-09-24

And she'd interrupt with her whole, "Kierkegaard's teleological suspension of the ethical makes perfect, logical sense. If we accept that one of God's Commandments is Thou Shalt Not Kill, we accept that God determines what is ethical, but if God goes against his previous command and commands Abraham to kill his son, God has temporarily redefined what is ethical because, like His creation, the universe that reflects Him, God is in a constant state of change, and in his infinite machinations for ends well beyond our comprehension, he must constantly change what is ethical. Is the sixth commandment discarded? No, it still exists, which is why Kierkegaard's notion that it's been temporarily suspended in the case of Abraham fits so well."

And of course, I'd counter, and she'd refute — recalling it now, I scoff at our presumption to equate Kierkegaard with his pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio — and a half-hour before class was scheduled to end, the prof would jump in, mutter something about real life Platonic dialogues, and dismiss class. I don't think he suspected that our relationship turned out to be far from platonic.

The first time I experienced true nothingness, the nurse's official ruling was that I had fainted due to the stress of midterms. Did I pour my heart into my twelve page paper on Wittgenstein's line, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," that I now consider to have been composed of seriously flawed interpretations? Yes, I became engrossed in the writing — but the nurse was giving a lot of credit to a paper that I'm 99.9 percent certain my professor didn't do more than glance at.

It wasn't like fainting. It wasn't like falling into a deep sleep. I've been asleep before-almost every night of my life. Sleep comes nowhere close to nothing. Half the time you're slightly aware of the irritants in the room — your roommate's loud breathing, the solar flare emanating from the phone charger, the ill-suited temperature-and if you're not experiencing a vivid dream that will exist as a ghost in the morning, you're slightly aware of your brain cataloguing memories, defragmenting and arranging them into the proper lobes like a librarian quickly flipping through a rolodex and sorting the cards into drawers.

All of this is very far removed from nothing. Imagine yourself sitting in your living room. Now take away the universe that exists outside the room. Out there it's simply clear like a pane of glass, but a pane of glass always has something behind it to give it color and imagery. This is just clear on top of clear the whole way down. And sitting there in the last room in the universe, you must imagine away all the furniture, the electronics — get rid of everything one by one until it's just four walls and the hardwood floor. Imagine yourself out of the room, so it's just an empty room on moving day. Now make the room disappear. Nothing, right? A void of colorless nothing.

There's just one problem. You can't get rid of your consciousness. You're still imagining your bodiless consciousness experiencing the void. Only the rarest monk can imagine away consciousness, but if you could do it now, you'd have an idea of true nothingness.

That's what I experienced in the quad on a March day during midterms. Not the idea of it, but actual nothingness, as though my body had been transported to a universe of nothing, and since nothing was permitted in this universe, my body and consciousness were instantly gone.

Ironic it should have happened mere days after a heated debate with Krisna. I was offended by all that "God stuff" back then, because I thought that there was no proof whatsoever that anything resembling "God," exists (It wasn't until after the first time I experienced true nothingness, I realized that there was no proof the universe should exist either). I was trying to keep our debate secular. In a classroom where most people were texting or browsing Facebook beneath their desks, she raised her voice and said in a heated tone, "You're running away from what William James called, 'The darkest question in all of philosophy.' I thought this quote from Jim Holt summed up the situation pretty well." She flipped through her notes and read, "'But a universe without an explanation? That seems an absurdity too far, at least to a reason-seeking species like ourselves.' So even if you want to dismiss the specific gods that humans have worshipped here on earth, you still need a God-figure to create the universe; otherwise, why is there a universe at all instead of nothing? Why are we here in the first place?"

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